• Subject Name : Law

Legal Assistance and Pro Bono Services

Aboriginal people and the population residing in Torres Strait Island may be considered as the group of people who experience the maximum level of disadvantage in Australia. Due to lower rates of literacy and low financial income, these groups come in contact with the legal system more often than any other population in the country. Lack of job opportunities and educational qualifications ensure that these individuals are always living in poor conditions that may be considered below the poverty line and do not understand the working procedures of the courts. Inadequate financial resources restrain the indigenous population from hiring legal advice when they come in contact with the legal justice system of the country. They often have to rely on free legal services provided by the government or tend to take advice from their friends and relatives who have faced similar legal issues before. This report shall discuss the disadvantages experienced by the Indigenous population on the legal front and if any assistance have been provided to them for those issues. The researcher shall also propose a solution at the end of the report with regard to how the legal services may be made more available to the population.

The term pro-bono is usually associated to legal advice where a lawyer who provides his expertise on any legal matter without a remuneration or at a reduced rate of remuneration on a matter that relates to public interest. Each Pro Bono scheme has different requirements to be fulfilled to make an individual eligible to claim the advantages that are provided by the scheme. There are several organisations which attempt to provide free legal services to the aboriginal population of Australia to make sure that the basic right of justice is not violated for these individuals who do not have the capacity to pay and fight for their basic rights.[1] The needs of the aboriginal population or not concentrated to specific area of law. the absence of services in the legal system can be experienced in family law, civil or criminal law, tax law, etc[2]. It is practically impossible for a single agency or organisation to provide assistance and Pro Bono services for all the areas of law to the indigenous population.

Blake Dawson and North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA), Katherine

This particular organisation was established with the aim of providing legal assistance- free of cost to the Indigenous population residing in the Katherine region. Limited funding and resources forced the organisation to limit their help to the area of criminal law only. However, taking into record the demand for civil legal assistance, the head lawyer at the organisation approached the eminent legal personal- Blake Dawson and requested him to provide funds, so that the organisation could afford to cater to the civil or demands of the disadvantaged population. Blake Dawson provided the organisation with a full-time lawyer who could deal with the civil law needs within the organisation and they have been catering to legal needs of the population ever since.

Assistance by Firms

There have been establishments of Community Legal Centres (CLCs) and Indigenous Legal Organisations ILOs) within the limits of Australia to provide legal help to the disadvantaged Indigenous Population of the country. The community legal centres are independent and may be included within the ambit of NGOs. Most of the financial resources are provided by the Commonwealth Government for the working of these legal centres. The legal centres partner with the legal firms of the country and the lawyers working in the firms make time out of the busy schedules for Pro Bono work. All the firms have been generous enough to regulate their internal rules and provide that each lawyer has to give in a particular number of hours for Pro Bono work each week, there is a drastic difference between the demand for legal services by the indigenous population and the supply of the same.

The aboriginals have been deprived of basic rights ever since Australia gained independence. This has resulted in discrimination against the population by the bodies of the government. It has been recorded that a large number of accused in the Australian jails is that of the indigenous population. The spark of outrage was ignited years ago when it was seen that the indigenous population was being discriminated against by the police personals. There was a specific case where a teenage girl was arrested as she had not paid her parking tickets. The inhuman treatment and lack of consideration by the police personals resulted in the death of the young girl due to medical issues.[3] Soon after a second case was reported where a young man was arrested and kept in custody for the non-payment of parking tickets although he was working hard and trying to pay them back. The aboriginal population started demanding justice and equal treatment, which is indeed a basic right. The basic reason why legal assistance has to be made available to the population is that- they are discriminated against by the authorities, the very people who have been given the task of protecting them.[4] Lack of knowledge and education keeps them unaware of the rights that have been given to them by the legal system and thus, they do not approach the justice system to claim their rights. Minority of the population who do you approach the legal system, experience the discrimination as they do not have enough financial resources to find the legal processes and ultimately end up losing the case. The legal services that have been made available to the population free of cost is not enough to meet the level of demand that is there in the country. As a result, the basic rights of this population are violated and there is nobody to speak up for them. Issues related to basic living standards, basic education, employability, taxation, health requirements, and equal pay and never brought to the courts due to the above-mentioned reasons. This highlights the need for increased level of Pro Bono services for the betterment of the population of the country and of the society as a whole.

A few organisations that have been identified, which provide legal service assistance to the aboriginal and Torres strait islander people are: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (ATSILS), Family Violence Prevention Legal Services (FVPLS) and the Aboriginal Legal Service of Western Australia (ALSWA). The areas which require immediate legal attention have been listed out below:

Tenancy Rights: The Aboriginal and Indigenous population of Australia has settled down in areas which are at a distance from the main cities. The community legal centres and the organisations which provide legal help to the population are usually located in the heart of the cities. Thus, the individuals living in small towns or remote areas have no access to the legal advice provided by these organisations. A large number of individuals and families have been evicted from their rented houses, and with no access to legal advice, they have no other option but to remain homeless. This in turn increases criminal tendencies in the aboriginal people as they have to feed themselves and their families.

Parole Issues Experienced by The Indigenous Population: It has been mentioned that a majority number of prisoners in the Australian jails are aboriginal people. The requirements to apply for parole include that a written application has to be made for the same. Keeping in mind that a majority of the indigenous people are illiterate, they are not able to apply for the benefits leave alone claim them. complaints about discriminatory treatment in jails also have to be made in writing.[5] Thus, the population is restricted from making any sort of communication with the outside world or complaint about that treatment till the period of imprisonment.

The researcher feels that the barriers to justice have to be removed to make the pro Bono scheme a success. Firstly, the issue of geographic isolation has to be attended to. Since the majority of the indigenous population resides in the outermost parts of the city, the establishment of organisations and institutions that provide assistance to the population should set up their offices in a place where the population shall not have to travel across the country to reach the offices of the organisation. Secondly, education and awareness of the legal rights that have been provided by the legal system have to be communicated to the indigenous population. Access to education can solve a lot of issues that are currently be experienced by the aboriginal people. Education will also be able to solve the language barriers that are experienced between the aboriginal population and the rest of the population of the country. Usually, while a legal procedure is in session, a foreign national may be provided with the interpreter so that they are aware and can understand the proceedings of the court, but an aboriginal will not be provided with an interpreter and will remain at a disadvantage as he will not be able to understand the language in which the court proceedings are held and thus will remain unaware of the proceedings of the case in which he is being tried.

The presence of pro-bono schemes is already present in Australia, but the supply of the same has a huge difference with the demand for the services. The organisations providing the services are financially inadequate to meet the increased demand, and the government should lend a helping hand and provide for lawyers who can be appointed to cater to the legal needs of the aboriginal population all year round. It is the duty of the government that all its citizens do not face injustice, including the aboriginal population.

Reference List for Communicative Strategies in Aboriginal English

ABC News. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-11-23/inquest-into-death-of-dhu-in-police-custody/6963244

Dieckmann, Cristy and Isolda Rojas-Lizana, “The Pragmatics of Legal Advice Services in a Community Legal Centre in Australia: Domination or Facilitation?” (2016) 23 International Journal of Speech Language and the Law 167

Eades, Diana, “Communicative Strategies in Aboriginal English” [1991] Language in Australia 84

Howard-Wagner, Deirdre, “Taking Justice to Aboriginal People: Everyday Access to Justice as a Promising Area of Indigenous Policy in Australia” [2018] Indigenous Justice 127

Razack, Sherene H, “The Space of Difference in Law: Inquests into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody” (2011) 1 Somatechnics 87

[1] Dieckmann, Cristy and Isolda Rojas-Lizana, “The Pragmatics of Legal Advice Services in a Community Legal Centre in Australia: Domination or Facilitation?” (2016) 23 International Journal of Speech Language and the Law 167

[2] Howard-Wagner, Deirdre, “Taking Justice to Aboriginal People: Everyday Access to Justice as a Promising Area of Indigenous Policy in Australia” [2018] Indigenous Justice 127

[3] ABC News on November 23, 2015. Available at https://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-11-23/inquest-into-death-of-dhu-in-police-custody/6963244.

[4] Razack, Sherene H, “The Space of Difference in Law: Inquests into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody” (2011) 1 Somatechnics 87

[5] Eades, Diana, “Communicative Strategies in Aboriginal English” [1991] Language in Australia 84

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